We are in a dim, smoky bar in Philadelphia in 1959. The drinks are cold, the stage is set. We are almost certainly white patrons, and we have likely seen Billie Holiday here before.

An unremarkable scene in some ways – but for the performer we are about to meet. With a magnetic stage presence and extraordinary pipes, Zahra Newman as Billie Holiday establishes her own legend from the first note of I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone.

Zahra Newman as Billie Holiday. Photo © Matt Byrne

Written by Lanie Robertson and expertly directed by Mitchell ButelLady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which dates back to 1986, tells of the all-too-short life story and music of the jazz legend nicknamed “Lady Day”.

Jazz pianist Kym Purling, as Jimmy Powers, leads the trio of piano, double bass (Victor Rounds) and drums (Calvin Welch), that, with Newman, makes for a musical collaboration of the highest standard. Just as a play within a play is referred to as ‘metadrama’, the musical aspects here are present as ‘metamusic’ – performers performing an imagined historical performance. As a presentation of the music of Billie Holiday,...